Rams LT Andrew Whitworth spent most of his potentially HOF career with the Bengals before leaving for the Rams a few years back. Now he'll play his against his former team in the Super Bowl.
Rams vs. 49ers score: Los Angeles advances to Super Bowl 56 on strength of defense
A late pick by Jimmy Garoppolo sealed the Rams' big win at home in the NFC title game
The Rams had lost six straight games to their rival 49ers entering Sunday night's NFC Championship, but they decided to snap the streak on a supersized stage. Sean McVay struggled to manage the clock late in the team's penultimate game of the 2021 season, but riding a big day from Cooper Kupp and his defense, which picked off Jimmy Garoppolo in the final two minutes to seal a 20-17 victory at home, he and the Rams are headed back to the Super Bowl -- in their own home, no less, with SoFi Stadium set to host the championship against the Bengals on Feb. 13.
Here are some instant takeaways from Sunday night's big Rams victory:
Why the Rams won
Give it to Raheem Morris' defense. This year was always gonna be all about Sean McVay's splashy offense, and certainly that unit did just enough when it mattered, with Matthew Stafford turning in a mostly solid day while leaning on target machine Cooper Kupp (11 catches, 142 yards, two touchdowns) and an equally reliable Odell Beckham Jr. (113 yards). But on a day the Rams managed just 20 points, struggled to get the ground game going, squandered their second-half timeouts and turned it over in the red zone, the "D" really stole the show. Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines and A'Shawn Robinson kept the 49ers' O-line on its toes, forcing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of his comfort zone early. Jalen Ramsey and Eric Weddle (!) each had important plays on the back end, nearly swiping Garoppolo passes. And Travin Howard sealed the win by intercepting one of several tipped Garoppolo balls in the final two minutes.
Why the 49ers lost
They couldn't do enough with the ball in their hands. Sound familiar? The 49ers have long surprised with their physicality, creative rushing strategy and ferocious pass rush. But on Sunday night, only two of those things really worked. Deebo Samuel, Kyle Shanahan's greatest weapon, still balled out with almost 100 total yards and an electrifying touchdown, and rookie Elijah Mitchell emerged as a safety valve for Garoppolo through the air. But a tenacious performance from DeMeco Ryans' defense, complete with 1.5 sacks from Nick Bosa and hard hits all around, went to waste as neither Mitchell nor Samuel could make dents on the ground, putting the burden on Garoppolo to lift San Francisco with his arm. Jimmy G wasn't horrible, delivering a few timely darts to George Kittle and Jauan Jennings, but also got away with a handful of misfires. Shanahan deserves blame, too, for going conservative with the game in his control -- specifically punting it away on fourth-and-2 near midfield in the fourth.
McVay had just squandered his third and final timeout of the game trying to challenge a potential 49ers fumble on third-and-short, but after San Francisco's ensuing drive stalled, Shanahan elected to punt the ball on fourth-and-2 near midfield. He could've gone for the kill shot there, potentially picking up a new set of downs, burning clock and controlling the close of the game. Instead, he gave the Rams another opportunity to come back, and they did, with Stafford hitting Odell on a perfect sideline shot after Jaquiski Tartt dropped an easy deep-ball pick the play before. A helmet-to-helmet shot from Jimmie Ward moved the Rams even farther, and L.A. officially took the lead on Matt Gay's 30-yard field goal.
Play of the game
His team didn't win, but Deebo Samuel reminded a national audience why he's so important to the 49ers offense with this:
The Super Bowl! For the Rams, that is. L.A. will be back at home, in SoFi Stadium, on Feb. 13 to literally host the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. It'll be the team's second Super Bowl appearance in four years. The 49ers, meanwhile, will begin their 2022 offseason, where they'll face some big questions at key spots like QB, where Garoppolo could be set to pass the torch to rookie Trey Lance.
The Niners had won six consecutive games against the Rams. This game broke that streak and sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.
So, the Rams are going to the Super Bowl. Although, they do not really have to "go" anywhere. For the second consecutive season, a team will play the Super Bowl in its home stadium.
That second-down catch by Jauan Jennings was not a smart play. And then the flip pass from Jimmy G was even not-smarter.
Matt Gay is good from 30 yards out, and the Rams lead this ballgame, 20-17, with 1:46 to go. Does Jimmy Garoppolo have a two-minute comeback in him? Just needs to get the 49ers in field-goal range to give Robbie Gould a chance to send this one to OT.
All five games this weekend and last were decided on the last play. Are we about to get another one here?
Sam Ebukam just WORKED Andrew Whitworth. Just a speed to power move and got right though one of the best LTs in the NFL.
Maybe not the best idea to send a blitz on third down.
The 49ers should have used one of their timeouts ahead of the two-minute warning. Especially with a run for loss on first down. Now, they will have less time left for a potential game-tying/winning drive.
I mean... what do you do with this guy? How do you stop that?
That should have been a delay of game on the Rams, I think. I know you get another beat after the clock runs out but that seemed to take longer.
Greg Gaines with immediate pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, whose line didn't even look ready to block on third-and-15. Travis Benjamin probably fortunate to drop the short pass behind the line, so as not to put the 49ers back even farther. Rams will have good field position to try to take the lead.
The Niners almost got hit with ANOTHER delay of game on third down. And then Jimmy had nowhere to go with the ball. Yikes.
Jimmy G has thrown at least three should-be picks. Sheesh.
49ers can't get the snap off in time and take a delay of game penalty with 6:45 left, setting up a second-and-15.
Important note for this next SF drive is that the Rams have no timeouts left. Kyle Shanahan would love nothing more than for this to be the last drive of the game as he runs the ball down the field and the Rams can't stop the clock.
Rams tried to go to another screen on third down but it got blown up real good by Fred Warner. No blocking in front of Sony Michel anyway.
Both teams having some success with WR screens in late-down situations. It helps to help YAC monsters.
This feels like the sequence that could lose the 49ers the game, to be honest. Rams have to deliver, but what a sudden turn of the tables. They're gifting Los Angeles opportunities here.
And then Stafford throws an absolute dime on a Cover-2 hole shot to Odell, who gets 15 yards tacked on thanks to an illegal hit. Awful sequence for the Niners.
On Juquiski Tartt.... he had an EASY pick. Stafford had Van Jefferson open, too. What a bad throw.
The Niners only gained around 27 yards from that sequence. Not a good decision to punt.
Kyle Shanahan isn't bold enough to go for it on fourth-and-2 around midfield. Don't be fooled. He and McVay may be good coaches, but they aren't nearly as aggressive as some think.
Shanahan lets McVay off the hook by taking a delay of game penalty instead of going for it on fourth-and-2. Not the best decision from him, either.
Does Sean McVay have someone advising him on these challenges? Because if so, what are they doing? And why is he listening?
Wow that was a really bad challenge given the replay. And now the Rams are out of timeouts. Awful job by McVay.
This challenge could really backfire on McVay, too. The 49ers were getting ready to punt, but have now apparently brought their offense back out on the field.
I didn't see a good enough replay to know if this challenge is going to be successful. Would have been nice to show us something before they went to commercial.
The 49ers tried to throw the Rams off by putting Trent Williams in motion, only to give it to Kyle Juszczyk and get stuffed in the backfield on third-and-short. Now McVay is challenging again, this time arguing that Juszczyk lost control of the ball before hitting the ground.
Eric Weddle has been retired for most of two years and he is playing a fantastic game. It's wildly impressive to be able to do what he's doing in the playoffs.
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